Where the REAL Money Is Made: The Mets and Their Merchandising Woes

In 2009, I took a baseball road trip to the west coast.  I visited such stadiums as Angel Stadium, Petco Park and Dodger Stadium.  At the time, our very own CitiField was brand new, just under a year old but I hadn’t taken to it yet.  After that trip, however, CitiField did go higher on my list, since I disliked Petco Park, Angel Stadium reminded me of Shea, and Dodger Stadium was wicked cool.

However, something else about Dodger Stadium stood out that was vastly different from CitiField.  Take away the fact that CitiField was brand new and Dodger Stadium is now the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball.  Dodger Stadium had by far the coolest stadium I’d ever been to for one thing in and of itself…

Mannywood.

When Manny Ramirez patrolled left field in Chavez Ravine, his fans and loyal followers donned their Manny doo-rags, all adorning the Dodgers logo, in the area distinctively called “Mannywood 99” which caused a great deal of hubbub due to the merging of the entertainment capital of the world, Hollywood natch, and one of the most entertaining players in baseball in Ramirez, as well as providing a novelty act that drew fans.

I did not sit there (how else would I get pictures of the sign?), but I would have if I had more time to spend there, just to say, “I sat in Mannywood.”

What stood out for me is that the Mets did not have a player they could hype like that.  Honestly, I’m not sure if something like that would work (most likely, it would turn out to be a Dan & Dave debacle if Mets previous history dictates that).  But what I found interesting is that Mets in my tenure as a fan has never had a marketing ploy like that to get people in seats.  It’s always sort of failed miserably.

In 2009, I guess the closest thing to a Mannywood type of area were the four guys posing as “Oliver’s Army” in response to a vilified Met, Oliver Perez.

I digress.  I remember back in 2009 especially talking with some people about what players the Mets could get.  Most likely, it was to provide a marketing standpoint, such as Barry Bonds (he’s a jerk, but he would draw a crowd) or a Ramirez-type.  I talked over these ideas with my friend Jake Stevens of the There It Is Jake! radio show out in California — we’ve had our differences of opinion over this stuff, but overall, he had the right idea.  The idea is that not only would a player draw fans, but that the money the Mets would reap from selling shirts, jerseys, and player likenesses would justify the payouts.

Then it hit me: the Mets SUCK at merchandising and marketing.  Besides maybe the signing of Pedro Martinez prior to the 2005 season, they’ve done nothing to keep that momentum up.  I’m sure that the signing of Carlos Beltran shortly after Martinez’s signing was close, but considering that Beltran is a pretty divisive player amongst the fans (you either love him or dislike him intensely) I don’t think it’s the best example.  Even with the example of Martinez, after his inaugural Mets season, Martinez merchandise I’m sure wasn’t in high demand.

Touching on the merchandising idea, you’d think that the Mets marketing geniuses would make the association that good players the fans like to get behind would be big sellers in the team stores.  As an example, one of my current favorite players these days is Mike Pelfrey.  Heck, listen to me on the podcast and I challenge you to find a bigger Pelfrey homer than me (besides maybe Brooklyn Met Fan, the author of the “Go Big Pelf” shirts).  However, although he’d made his debut with the club in 2006, pitched most of 2007 and 2008, his shirts were not readily available in the stores until 2010.  WTH?  I know for a fact I was not the only Pelfrey fan out there; I would have gladly spent $26 or whatever it costs to buy the t-shirt.  I know I can buy it online; however, it is pricier to get the custom shirts as opposed to buying in the stores.  Unless I want to relegate myself to Wright 5, Reyes 7 (which I own) or Santana 57 shirts, I was SOL pretty much till they decided to carry them in stores.

They even kind of screw up a decent idea in the stores.  Look at Daniel Murphy.  Here is a good looking kid that most fans want to root behind.  However, how many green Mets shirts with the Murphy name on the back can I bear to look at?  What’s sadder is that even though we knew pretty early on that Danny Boy wouldn’t be playing most 2010, there were more of his shirts for sale (heavily discounted, of course) than other more popular AND not-currently-injured players.  Insult to injury?  I could go to any Mets Clubhouse store and find the likes of Kaz Matsui, who hasn’t even friggin PLAYED for the team in over five years, available and Jeff Francoeur, who had the good looking wholesome boy image but sucked as a player.  I could get at any time a Francoeur shirt prior to him being traded, heck even afterwards.

Here are examples of other players you cannot find shirts for in the clubhouse stores as of today or in the team store as of last season: Angel Pagan (a big fan favorite and soon-to-be starting CF), Jonathon Niese (another fan favorite who is projected to be one of the top starters for the team this year) or R.A. Dickey (yet ANOTHER fan fave who recently signed a two-year extension, so we can’t even use the excuse “He might not be on the team any longer” any more for not having his shirts available).  In the Mets defense, Josh Thole, a homegrown guy, may have been available towards the end of the season.

While it didn’t take a long time to get Ike Davis’ shirt available in the shops, the fact that we could easily get Frankie Rodriguez’s or Jason Bay’s when they didn’t even finish the season out due to injury and not have those other players available was absurd.  I’m not saying the former should have been taken off the shelves; just give us some Niese, Pagan and Thole shirts and none of us will complain.  I guess I can take solace in the fact that Oliver Perez shirts weren’t to be found.

As Yogurt prophetically said in the movie Spaceballs, merchandising is where the real money is made.  The Mets have done a craptastic job of merchandising.  For an ownership that is so “money conscious” (ahem), there is no excuse for this.  Sure, CitiField has many onsite specialty shops, but they fail in the sense that a lot of items are not available for the common fan that may have a budget.  As a female, I can attest that Alyssa Milano’s Touch boutique has a lot of cute items for sale.  Except for the fact that I’m a tomboy, I like the items at the banner store more as a preference.  I still would not be able to get a Pelfrey shirt in the Touch store, though.

On the flip side, why spend $40 on a cutesy Mets top when you can spend $25 on a shirt at the Nike store.  I mean, throw us a bone here – there’s no excuse for this.  I know for a fact that at most stores at Fenway Park, ALL Red Sox players merchandise is available.  Every. One.  Even the guys who suck.  Maybe they don’t sell but maybe a fan wants to wear that players for number for some reason.  Who knows?  The Mets have been exclusionary in who they carry in the stores, and I’d like more variety.  There is ZERO excuse why Angel Pagan or Jon Niese shouldn’t be represented in the stores.  None.

Contrary to popular belief, fans do want to support the team monetarily as a general rule.  The stadium might be out of the price range for some, or may even be travel prohibitive for them.  However, then the team t-shirts are even pricing them out, this is a problem and it didn’t occur overnight.

One response to “Where the REAL Money Is Made: The Mets and Their Merchandising Woes

  1. I wonder how much of the Mets’ reticence is tied into “If we promote them too much, they’ll want to be paid more.” Reading about Lincecum in Sunday’s Times (and knowing the Giants fans’ affection for him) made me wonder when was the last time we had a player in our midst who was that transcendent. Gooden? Wright’s a lot of things, but he’s not that. Reyes could have been, but he isn’t. The imports — Beltran, Pedro, Santana — never last in that fashion.

    As ever, good outside-the-blog thinking by the Coop!

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